The conflict between the generations is a recurring theme in the cinema of Claude Sautet. Often as not, it is peripheral to the main drama, but in Un mauvais fils it is absolutely central, the lightning conductor in a raging emotional thunderstorm. The fraught relationship between a middle-aged father and his estranged son Bruno is mirrored by one of a gentler hue, that between a gay bookshop owner and his attractive employee Catherine, who is his adopted daughter in all but name. Bruno appears to have more in common with Catherine, a perfect stranger, than with his father, and so whilst one relationship withers, another flourishes.
Here, it is narcotics abuse that marks out the generational fault lines. Neither Bruno’s father nor Catherine’s attentive employer can understand the need for drugs and regard this as a sign of the lack of staying power in today’s younger generation – their moral position is slightly undermined by the fact that both men consume alcohol. Bruno’s own moral judgements are shown to be as flawed and trivial as his father’s and the rift that opens up between them through a mutual misunderstanding and lack of willingness to see things from the other’s viewpoint soon appears unbridgeable. Sautet is, if anything, an optimist, and the film ends not with a permanent estrangement but with the possibility of a lasting reconciliation between the generations. Blood is, after all, thicker than water.
Sautet had originally considered Gérard Depardieu for the part of Bruno but later changed his mind when he thought that the actor was too self-assured to convincingly play the fragile main protagonist. Patrick Dewaere was the ideal substitute, an actor renowned for playing tormented, multi-faceted and usually sympathetic no-hopers. As a man, Dewaere was an enigma, an affable, moody and impulsive force of nature – he had a massive falling out with the media around the time he made this film (the result of his punching a journalist) and he took his own life (for reasons that remain unknown) just a few years later. As an actor, he was virtually unrivalled at the time he was working, certainly one of the most talented and charismatic actors in French cinema, although his professional reputation was tarnished somewhat by his temperamental personality.
In Un mauvais fils, Dewaere gives one of his most nuanced and engaging performances, one that expresses far more about his character than his prosaic dialogue can ever hope to do and which forces the spectator to share his sense of dislocation from the world around him. Watching Dewaere in his films is always a fascinating and moving experience, simply because the actor projects so much of himself into his screen portrayals and never gives us cause to doubt that he is living the part with every fibre of his being whilst he is in front of the camera. It is hard to imagine a more committed and instinctive actor than Patrick Dewaere. He deserves to be ranked alongside such luminaries as Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro as one of the great talents of the silver screen, tragically brief though his career was.
The four other main roles are just as well-cast and beautifully complement Dewaere’s faultless performance. The part of Bruno’s mercurial father is superbly rendered by Yves Robert, a distinguished character actor who was also an accomplished film director (his best known work being the popular La Gloire de mon père / Le Château de ma mère (1990) diptych). Robert’s portrayal is so unnervingly in sympathy with Dewaere’s that we never question that their characters are father and son. Just as commendable is Brigitte Fossey’s sensitive portrayal of a vulnerable young woman struggling (and failing) to overcome her drugs dependency, and we must not overlook the exceptional contributions from Jacques Dufilho and Claire Maurier, who bring colour and depth to their complex supporting characters.
Dewaere, Dufilho and Maurier were all nominated for a César for their performances, but only Dufilho received the award (in the Best Supporting Actor category). The film was nominated (unsuccessfully) in three other categories (Best Director, Best Design and Best Sound). Claude Sautet may have made barely a dozen films, but few would dispute that he is one of the great auteurs of French cinema, highly regarded for his meaningful, lovingly crafted explorations of the human soul. Amidst Sautet’s other masterworks, Un mauvais fils is all too easily overlooked, but it is surely one of the director’s finest achievements – as much a testament to Sautet’s skill as a film director as it is to Patrick Dewaere’s incomparable talent as an actor. Many other filmmakers have examined the inter-generational divide, but rarely with the finesse and insight that Sautet shows in this magnificent film. — James Travers (www.lefilmguide.com)
2.34GB | 1h 49mn | 960×576 | mkv